Discussion examines genital mutilation

Rachel Osfar

Although female genital cutting poses many health risks and is a concept most Americans shun, it is a tradition that needs to be examined from the perspective of the respective culture, said a University professor Saturday.
“Modernization as Deviance,” a seminar conducted Saturday by Elizabeth Heger Boyle, an assistant professor of sociology and law at the University, examined the relationship between the practice of female circumcision and the cultures in which it takes place.
According to Boyle, the procedure is an accepted part of the societies practicing it. For these women to refuse it is an act of deviance, and they might face criticism as a result of this decision.
But decisions need to made as the procedure carries many health risks, including urinary tract infections, childbirth difficulties, genital malformation and scarring, said Kathryn Sikkink, a University political science professor. Additionally, the practice mars, if not destroys, any sexual pleasure women are able to feel.
There are three kinds of female circumcision including: sunna, or removal of the hood of the clitoris, which is the mildest form; excision, removal of the entire clitoris; and infibulation — the most severe — which is the removal of the clitoris and surrounding areas of the female genitals.
Boyle’s goal is to promote awareness of the practice, advocate education and encourage an atmosphere in which women are in charge of their bodies.
“I don’t see myself as a person who is trying to eradicate female genital cutting,” Boyle said. “I want women to have a choice”.
Efforts to expose the practice have created controversy because the intervening countries do not consider the social implications.
“Many males (in countries which practice the procedure) will refuse to marry women who have not had the procedure,” Boyle said. “They feel it is a sign of being unchaste.”
Nevertheless, many in the United States want the practice eliminated. Efforts to educate women in the countries of practice seem to be paying off.
Studies by the U.S. State Department in Egypt, Mali and Sudan have shown that women who are educated and work outside the home are less likely to favor the continuation of the procedure. These women are also less likely to have their own daughters circumcised.
“Past efforts to end female circumcision have been a failed campaign,” said Sikkink. Cultural context is not taken into account when intervention is attempted.
For those interested in getting involved in efforts to promote education about the procedure, Boyle suggests contacting her to get information about national groups like Rainbow and Forward, which focus on awareness.